Why is it always a watch? Why not a beer can?

Don’t know if this is GQ or GD fodder - any wandering mod feel free to move it at will.

The watch in the title is, of course, from the “if you found a watch on the beach, you’d assume there was a watchmaker…” argument. The question is, why is it always a watch? If you found a beer can, you’d have to assume a beer can maker, right? After all, what are the odds of a beer can appearing from a random interaction of just the right atoms? Especially an unopened can of cold beer.

The only two things I can think of are:

1: the parts of the watch are supposed to compare to the different parts and/or organs of the human body - they’re shooting for greater complexity than a beer can (empty or full, cold or warm) would present.

2: the original argument involved a watch and it hasn’t evolved from that point. i.e. most creationists merely repeat the same things over and over.

I think you’re right with both. A watch is a complex piece of machinary which won’t perform its desired function if pieces are missing. There has been no need to come up with a new analogy as a watch performs well in this role.

I meant to add, a beer can will still perform its function with pieces missing. Half a beer can will still carry a quantity of liquid, half a watch is useless. This is an important part of the argument against evolution.

I’m pretty sure it’s the complexity argument.

It’s similar to Fred Hoyle’s statement: “A junkyard contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing-747, dismembered and in disarray. A whirlwind happens to blow through the yard. What is the chance that after its passage a fully assembled 747, ready to fly, will be found standing there?”

My History of Philosophy teacher used as the example a mountain climber’s mailbox. Specifically, the one on top of Mesa de los Tres Reyes, which is shaped exactly like the Castle of Xavier.

Half the people in my class were mountain climbers, so he knew we’s seen it.

For those who don’t know, those mailboxes are placed on top of a mountain and you take whatever is in there and leave some mesage of your own. Then you send mail to the people who left the message you took.

However, I have a watch on my dresser, one of those cheap digital and analog jobbies. The analog part is defunct but the digital part is still working. In effect, a half a watch, if you squint at it the right way. :smiley:

Pick up a copy of The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins to see how the intelligent design argument with the watchmaker gets demolished. An excellent book.

How about if you came across the bloated body of a tsunami victim on the beach, would you assume there was a sadist?

Not if the bottom is missing, or the sides.

Stepping away from the religious aspects of the OP and putting a sociological turn to the discussion, a number of anthropologists have suggested that beer brewing is the benchmark of “civilization”.

It is somewhat complex to create so it cannot just happen on its own. It takes an established localtion to be done and it takes ingredients that must be cultivated.

The creation of the can is a whole 'nother step.

In direct regard to the OP I feel that the watch is seen by those using the creationist argument as a metaphor for a human being. It even has nicely transferable terms like “hands” and “face.” Further, from the reverse angle, people often use watch terms to discribe their own lives such as, “all wound up” and being “run down”.

The watchmaker argument was first published in 1802, in William Paley’s Natural Theology. (It therefore predates Darwin, and was created as an argument in favor of the existence of God rather than an attempted refutation of evolution.) At the time, a watch would have been the best example of a technologically advanced, complex mechanical device. (At least a small one; I suppose he could have used a steam engine, but it’s not something you’re likely to find lying in a field.) Over time, it hasn’t been necessary to change the device, though some authors have changed it.

Unfortunately, we don’t currently have any technological devices that are good analogies to what we now know about the origin of life. A very large number of experiments have suggested ways that biological molecules can arise from simpler ones, and even possible ways that biological systems might copy themselves and make themselves more complex. In contrast, the watchmaker argument is often used to argue that complex things don’t ‘fall together by chance’, and therefore that life must have a designer. But life did not ‘fall together by chance’ – life, very simple at first, arose and became more complex by a long series of events, a series of events which we call evolution.

Perhaps, in the future, there will be nano-machines that can make copies of themselves and automatically make some modifications to make the machines better adapted to their situation with each successive generation. Then, a person who found such a machine in a field would be able to conclude that the machine had not been built by a person, but by a machine similar to it, or by a similar but slightly less complex or less adapted machine. This argument would be closer to what scientists actually claim than the watchmaker argument. No one believes that life fell together by chance – it arose by a series of adaptive processes from simpler life-forms, and eventually from non-living material.

However, even the nano-machine version has a flaw. It deals with machines, and therefore there must have been a human designer who built the first-generation machine. Life is not analogous here, because we have evidence that simple chemicals necessary for life can be formed by natural processes from inorganic chemicals present in the natural environment.